Success is many things. It is a both a concept and an experience, a moment as well as an evolution. It is the merging of your aspirations with reality; the weaving of your hopes and dreams with your daily tasks. It is simultaneously tangible and ephemeral, and gives the illusion of being universally quantifiable. Success is externally evaluated, yet intrinsically experienced; it is both objective and subjective. The true essence of success, beneath the visible markers and goals, lies in your own personal sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.

What comes to mind for you when you think about “success?”

What are the images you see? What does it feel like in your bones to have succeeded? Do you imagine reaching the apex of your profession? Or do you imagine amassing great wealth? Does it mean seeing your face on the cover of national magazines or reading your name in “Who’s Who?”

couple-holding-handsFor some people success may be any one or all of these. For others, it may be something entirely different, like perhaps earning enough money to retire at 50, or having their own art show in a gallery, or coaching their child’s little league team to victory. To some, success looks like grand achievement, to others it resembles daily rewards, and still others measure it as the accomplishment of an underlying life mission. It may mean being a good friend, or raising socially responsible children, or being a loving grandparent. For some, the achievement looks like having lived ethically, honorably, or according their values and conscience. For many, finding or sustaining a romantic relationship or marriage is a goal, and the attainment of that goal brings them a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. Overcoming a disability, hardship, challenge or obstacle is the criteria for some, whereas breaking records – athletic, financial, historic or scientific – is where fulfillment lies for others.

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Since each person is an individual, comprised of their own visions and standards, each one defines success in their own way. My definition is probably not the same as yours, nor is yours exactly the same as the people you know. We are a constellation of individuals, each holding our own place in the cosmos and twinkling from within as a result of whatever gives us our own individual glow. The first basic rule of success, and perhaps the most important, is that there is no one universal definition of fulfillment. We each have our own, and every one is equally precious and worthy.

The Standards of Success

The popular cultural definition of success in industrial nations is based primarily on three elements: power, money, and notoriety. It is assumed that if you are in possession of great abundance, have status or power, or are recognized as a celebrity, then you are, by society’s definition, “successful.” If you have even one of those three requirements, you qualify.

There is, however, one major problem with this definition: it is severely limited. It excludes a multitude of people who are successful in their own right, and who define success by an entirely different set of standards. These are the people whose bank balances may not be especially noteworthy, nor do they brandish significant authority, nor are they necessarily recognized when they walked down the street. Rather, these are the people who have realized goals and dreams that have been set from within, rather than those dictated by societal norms.

Consider the school principal who started a middle school that teaches children values and self-esteem and love of nature. Is creating an environment where children grow in healthy ways and develop awareness and values any less successful than the business tycoon who masterminds corporate buyouts? Who is to say that his dream and the realization of it was any less important in the grand scheme of life?

Consider the person who volunteers at their local hospital to read to the elderly whose eyes can no longer perform the task? Is this person any less of a success than the professional ball player who scores the winning run as the most valuable player?

Think about the scientist who has dedicated her life to finding a cure for cancer. Is she only considered a success if she actually finds the cure? Do the hours and dedication she has put forth only count if the result is achieved? Is the success measured only in the culmination or is the commitment, the perseverance, and the pursuit valued as well?

Bill_Mason_in_canoe_01What about the middle-aged man who leaves his law practice to pursue his dream of carving and selling canoes? If his delight is in doing what makes him happy, is he any less prosperous than the celebrity who grosses $10 million per movie?

Success is amorphous, and like the other vast intangible – love – there is no universal means by which we can measure it. What it means for one person may not resonate for another. It may be the collective goal of many, but it ultimately has only one true judge. You, and only you, can assess your success, for it is you alone who determine what it really means for you.